The building trades and organized labor lost a great leader with the Dec. 3 passing of Edwin D. Hill, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International President Emeritus.
Hill, 81, passed away following a battle with pneumonia.
As International Secretary-Treasurer from 1997 to 2001, he streamlined the union’s accounting systems and modernized its record-keeping and membership databases.
He worked with then-International President J.J. Barry to add needed resources to organizing and when he succeeded Barry as International President in 2001, Hill placed an even stronger emphasis on organizing. He directed leaders in the Membership Development Department to harness new technology and tools for organizers in every branch of the IBEW.
During his time as International President, from 2001 through 2015, Hill’s primary goal was to put members to work. He created the IBEW’s Code of Excellence, proposed other business development initiatives and willingly took on powerful voices within his own union with the market recovery measures that led to the successful alternative classification system.
“He was a man who lived and breathed the labor movement,” said Sam Chilia, who worked alongside Hill as IBEW International Secretary-Treasurer, during a Dec. 4 interview on America’s Work Force Radio. “He was a tremendous individual and I can tell you every IBEW member lost a great friend with his passing.”
Chilia, was an IBEW Fourth District International Vice President when he was chosen by Hill to finish the unexpired term of retiring International Secretary-Treasurer Lindell Lee in 2011.
“He was just a tremendous individual and friend,” Chilia said. “I had the pleasure of working for the International since 2001 and respected him every minute of it.”
IBEW Local 38 Business Manager Dennis Meaney credited the changes Hill implemented to the International’s Business Development Department (BDD) for helping Locals with collecting quality data and improving business relationships.
“For instance, when a drug store is going to build in our area, we already have the numbers of IBEW members here locally and across the country who get their prescriptions filled at their stores because of the data collected by the BDD,” he said. “This has helped us when we approach them with our numbers and have shown them how much business the IBEW does with them. If the developers try and bring in non-union contractors, there is already a relationship established with the owners and all we have to do is pick up the phone and make a call.”
Meaney also stressed the importance of Hill’s focus on organizing, which he called the lifeblood of the building trades.
“If that push to educate the members on why you need to organize doesn’t come from the top, then organizing does not happen,” he said. “President Hill was able to articulate that if you are not organizing, you are not putting pressure on non-union contractors and they will continue to operate with impunity and your market share will shrink.”
Current IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who succeeded Hill upon his retirement in 2015, praised Hill as an enterprising labor leader.
“The labor movement has lost one of its great visionaries and leaders,” said Stephenson in a statement on the IBEW website. “The IBEW today is one of the strongest and most influential unions in North America – respected on worksites, in corporate boardrooms and on Capitol and Parliament Hill – and so much of that is due to Ed’s leadership, vision and hard-work.”
Chilia said Hill left the IBEW a lot better than he found it.
“He wanted to make sure the IBEW stood on its feet for years and generations to come, and he did anything within his power to make that happen,” said Chilia. “He made sure there were jobs for people and we satisfied the people who hired IBEW contractors.”
“His legacy is that he was able to communicate to the membership the need for change in multiple facets of our industry in order for us to succeed and grow in such a way that made people want to do it,” added Meaney.
In a prepared statement, North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) President Sean McGarvey said the building trades lost a revered leader with the passing of Hill, who’s voice was among the most respected and unifying throughout the entire labor movement.
“President Hill was a fighter for our workers and never surrendered when challenges and union-busting obstacles came in the way of his cherished IBEW,” said McGarvey. “President Hill represented the core values of the Building Trades to the highest extent, as he served as a true role model and trailblazer.”